Mailbag: Lie of the Year 2011 Edition
By Louis Jacobson
Published on Friday, December 23rd, 2011 at 3:00 p.m.
We got an avalanche of criticism for our Lie of the Year selection -- a Democratic claim that the Republicans voted to end Medicare. Of roughly 1,500 e-mails we received, nearly all criticized our choice.
In response to the critics, we published "Fact-checking in the Echo Chamber Nation," which brought additional comments.
Here is a sampling of the messages and criticisms we've gotten over the past few days.
"The people at PolitiFact are terrified of being considered partisan if they acknowledge the clear fact that there’s a lot more lying on one side of the political divide than on the other. So they’ve bent over backwards to appear ‘balanced’ — and in the process made themselves useless and irrelevant. Way to go, guys."
"PolitiFact, R.I.P.", Paul Krugman, New York Times The Conscience of a Liberal blog, Dec. 20, 2011
"So let me get this straight. The 2011 Lie of the Year is 'They left off a qualifier. If they added the qualifier, it is essentially true.' Its competition were a bunch of things that could not be saved even via context (e.g., the 'not intended to be a factual statement' comment on Planned Parenthood or the ‘zero jobs created’ comment). The last two years, the winner has been a comment that was false on its face, not one that was debatable."
"Let me say that you have lost any credibility you may have had. There is absolutely no doubt that the intention of the GOP is to destroy Medicare and privatize any programs that benefit the 99 percent of our country so that their friends on Wall Street can steal that money too. You, The Fourth Estate, have failed the American people by allowing these Nazis to cloak their un-American, obstructionist, racist and bigoted agenda in slickly worded disingenuous double talk to fool the ignorant into voting against their own interests. You have failed to call them liars for years. … Another pathetic disservice to the American people from the current lame excuse for the Fourth Estate."
"I feel like I've lost a good debate buddy down at the bar. No more referencing PolitiFact on the smart phone in the heat of a knockdown, drag-out political debate. No more seeing a PolitiFact reference in an article and feeling confident I could trust it. No more PolitiFact."
"You have LOST a customerl. I have always respected and gone to PolitiFact for the truth, but after your selection, NO MORE! YOU GUYS ARE TOAST AS FAR AS I AM CONCERNED! Ryan’s plan would end medicare as we know it, AND YOU KNOW IT. I WILL NO LONGER GO TO POLITIFACT EVER AGAIN!"
"Why does anyone care what this gimmicky website has to say, ever? … Why should St. Petersburg Times bloggers' opinions — no offense to them! — carry authoritative power to make final judgments? They're imperfect humans who fact-check political claims, just like every other a------ on the Internet. But people have bought into their branding gimmick, their ratings. More than anything else, PolitiFact reminds me of the credit rating agencies. They are just companies that employ credit risk analysts. But since they devised a similarly easily digestible alphanumeric code — AAA, BBB, AA+, whatever — and people have bought into this, they wield immense centralized power over the entire world. But that doesn't mean they won't screw up. PolitiFact is dangerous. Stop reading it. Stop reading the ‘four Pinocchios’ guy too. Stop using some huckster company's stupid little phrases or codes or number systems when it's convenient, and read the actual arguments instead. You're building a monster."
"PolitiFact is Bad for Your," Jim Newell, Gawker, Dec. 20, 2011***
"Way to give in to pressure by selecting end Medicare as your Lie of the Year. You just lost another loyal reader, you trash bags."
"It is sad that you have completely destroyed your credibility. You are no longer a bipartisan site but just a confused bunch of tools. I would go into detail but seriously why waste any time on your site? I'll never pay any attention to any of your verdicts again. I hope someone steps up to replace what was once a credible source. Now you are worthless and irrelevant. Good riddance."
"PolitiFact was mulling ten finalists for Lie of the Year. They were correct, I think, in rejecting some of the howlers that were aggressively inaccurate but not especially relevant, such as Michele Bachmann's claim that the HPV vaccine can cause mental handicaps: ‘It’s an interesting falsehood, but it didn't become a significant issue because of widespread agreement Bachmann was incorrect.’ The Republican claim that the stimulus ‘created zero jobs’ would have been a better choice. Although it's impossible to be precise about how many jobs the stimulus created or saved, it clearly had some effect, and the magnitude of the effect is pivotal to the larger question of whether Barack Obama has been a good steward of the economy. As important as entitlement reform is, the short-term economic issues are more actionable right now."
"Fact-checking the fact-checkers," Economist blog Democracy in America, Dec. 20, 2011
"I am a loyal reader of your column, I trust your analysis, and I like that you go after both Republicans and Democrats. That said, I think you blew it with your Lie of the Year. The Paul Ryan plan fundamentally changes Medicare in so many ways that put side by side with no label, few if any would conclude that it is the same program. Simply keeping the same name in no way means it's the same program. … I don't know if you felt compelled to go after Democrats after two consecutive years of Republican ‘winners,’ but you messed up big-time on this one."
"That was no lie, and all your tap-dancing and obfuscation won't change that fact. You just couldn't resist sucking up to the right wing. The Times was a great paper, but apparently honesty and integrity are no longer important or necessary there. Return the Pulitzer - you've disgraced yourselves."
"Unspecific hyperbole is commonplace in politics. In selecting ending Medicare as the lie of the year, it seems PolitiFact chose it for its political potency rather than for the depth or deviousness of its deception. This is a claim that will appear in countless TV ads next year and has arguably already helped swing a special congressional election in New York. It’s a big deal to be sure, and its nuances are worth exploring. But Lie of the Year? Maybe that will require a debate over the word ‘lie.’"
Adam Sorensen,"PolitiFact’s Semantic Distinction of the Year: Ending Medicare," Time magazine’s Swampland blog, Dec. 20, 2011.
"I don't feel that ‘ending Medicare’ is worthy of a Pants on Fire, much less Lie of the Year. There's a lot of semantics in there, but if Medicare is a form of socialized health insurance, then yes, Ryan's plan would end Medicare. So, when politicians added four words (‘as we know it’) they were able to get a Mostly True rating? Going from Pants on Fire to Mostly True is quite a gulf to be bridged by ‘as we know it.’ I don't appreciate the fear tactics either, and I think it was an exaggeration, but calling it Lie of the Year seems a bit much.
"Still love you guys though."
"I don’t think PolitiFact chose a lie of the year in 2011. Their sights were set on something different, and they erred by calling it what they called it. They wanted to point how far from virtuous the behavior of some Democrats was in reaction to the Ryan plan. They were standing up for the idea of scrupulous debate. They were saying: Be more careful! Because if you are not careful, you can scare people unnecessarily. Don’t go for the easy line! Be strict with yourself! Stay virtuous. But the object of their criticism wasn’t a lie, it was a vice. They chose the vice of the year, and they called it a lie, which violates one of the ideas PolitiFact stands for: if things cannot be called by their right names, public discussion becomes impossible."
Jay Rosen, "PolitiFact Chose the Vice of the Year But They Called it a Lie. That was dumb.", Dec. 22, 2011
"Did the Koch brothers buy your website? Your betrayal is worse than the right's concerted attack on humanity because they at least are blatantly dishonest about it. You are still pretending to be honest and trustworthy. You have killed your neutral credibility with this retarded stunt. I hope it was worth it, because I am now supporting any groups that actively seek to put an end to your influence."
"The sad part is that real lies do occur in political and policy argument, and we have a dire need for journalists who are not afraid to call them lies. In light of that need, I cannot believe that PolitiFact would torpedo its reputation over what is basically an argument over semantics. Its judgment can no longer be trusted. I can no longer support this site."
"What has come to an end is the high regard I held for PolitiFact and the veracity (and brilliance!) of the hard working writers I have come to depend on to sort truth from distortion. Take it from a construction guy who regularly holds meetings with subcontractors who want to parse the meaning of words like ‘done’ and ‘now’ -- your claim that Medicare would continue under the Ryan plan is an insult. How many pieces of my pickup truck do I need to remove before it stops being a ‘truck’ and becomes a ‘wreck’? Your readers deserve better."
"I am an ongoing and avid fan of PolitiFact and am writing you in that spirit. To start – yes, like some others, I disagree with your choice of Lie of the Year. But that isn’t why I am writing. In fact, it is my case and point in writing.
"It seems to me that the entire process of attempting to name a biggest, most, or whatever superlative you choose is a perverse exercise and one that by definition, contradicts the PolitiFact mission.
"As soon as you indulge in this ranking game, you depart the world of facts and truth and enter wholeheartedly into punditry, opinionating and pure subjectivity. We see controversy surrounding every contest of this type – from the Oscars to People’s ‘Sexiest Man of the Year,’ from the Nobel Prize to the judgments regarding rhythmic gymnastics in the Olympics. Those controversies or intrinsic to the exercise of this category of judgment – as it is impossible to measure the origin of the decision objectively, so it inevitably comes down to one opinion versus another.
"I would invite PolitiFact to rethink this entire aspect of its service. Perhaps it would be more apt to simply present a selection of most prominent and interesting (or most repeated) lies of the year – and rather than ranking them, just exercise the opportunity to reflect and look back at recent history. But any kind of ranking will inevitably lead back to the kind of morass that is at odds with your mission. The very mechanism of deciding via poll rather than through assessment of facts is inimical to your work, and that procedure itself highlights the subjective nature of the decision. Frankly, presenting a ‘Lie of the Year,’ by its very nature, sullies your otherwise pristine character as an enterprise.
"Thank you for all you do."
"Thank you for giving us straight talk. I am a Democrat and did not like what you chose as the lie of the year, but I heard you out and you changed my mind. We sorely need you in this country. I will continue to come back to PolitiFact to get the truth. Thank you."
"Wow, I'm sorry that there is so much controversy over your research. It shocks me that so many people are attacking PolitiFact for extensive research on an over-the-top statement, a fact-check that I stand by even though I'm a liberal who gets most of his news from CNN rather than Fox.
"I just wanted to say that I wholly appreciate your work and you should keep it up. PolitiFact is the best resource out there for people who want to see through the lies of both sides of politics, both liberal and conservative. I've gotten a far greater understanding of my side of the political spectrum and how they can twist their words just as the other side can, and I hope none of this anti-PolitiFact partisan nonsense discourages you from doing what you do."
"I may not agree with your conclusions but I can NEVER claim that you haven't thoroughly researched an issue. With all the refences you provide, I can make my own conclusions, and that's something the Echo Chamber Nation never supports, whether FOX or MSNBC. They don't want you to think for yourself -- they want you to agree."
"I will briefly state that I’m very disappointed in Politifact’s choice for Lie of the Year. As you’ve acknowledged, you’ve already seen thousands of negative responses. Simply put, you got this one wrong.
"I just read your response editorial, and while I appreciate your willingness to respond to critics, I’m still not satisfied with your explanation. But, you’ve made your conclusion, 'We've read the critiques and see nothing that changes our findings.'…so, I’ll move on as well.
"What I really want to do is thank you, because I think that Politifact serves a truly fundamental purpose in the political world of today. We must uphold reality. Lies, deceit, 'spin'…its tearing our people apart and rotting our society. Thank you for standing up for those who know that there is and there isn’t…it happened and it didn’t happen…it’s true and it’s a lie. Thank you for being a voice of reason and truth, I consider you a tremendously valuable resource."I know you won’t be perfect, but few of us are, so keep fighting the good fight, and please try your best to stay away from the Echo Chamber Nation you so abhor…but let’s be honest, 'Lie of the Year' is an opinion and you’ve already got your toes in the water. So, if this has to go on, at least try to get it right next year."
"I have been reading your site diligently for the last six months or so, and though I disagree with some of your rulings, I have found you a fantastic resource for navigating today’s political landscape. I currently identify myself as a Democrat and have been thankful to have a website that I can reliably turn to when I questions from either side. ...
"I am telling you all this to say ‘thank you’ and please don’t stop. Though I and others may disagree with you from time to time, you are a voice of reason and truth in a world of partisanship and fictions. I will be relying on you to call out lies and proclaim truths in 2012 and for years to come."***
"Keep up the good work with not letting others alter your fact-checks. Yes, love for the site is conditional -- I adored your Pants on Fire for the Democrats attack on the Ryan plan, and got frustrated by your Pants on Fire for Romney's claim that Obama apologized around the world for America -- but you continue to show us that you are not a partisan body, you continue to help us sort out the truth, and more importantly, you hold politicians accountable for the statements they make, even if a lot of them misquote your ratings to earn credibility -- which actually proves how powerful you have become if they feel the need to back up their arguments with your assessments. Keep doing what you're doing, and no matter how frustrated our partisan minds get, know that we will keep coming back because of your integrity and valor."
"Your article on the reaction to Lie of the Year award is right on the money. It is my observation that cable news in general and false e-mails in particular are dangerously spreading falsehoods that are not true, both on the right and the left. I appreciate that Politifact just presents facts so I can make my own opinions. Thank you for that service."
Reader e-mails and blog posts.
Researchers: Louis Jacobson
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